San Francisco has its share of great music festivals, including Outside Lands, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, and Treasure Island. I’ve been to the first one a couple of times, consider myself a HSB veteran at three, but had never been to Treasure Island Music Festival (TIMF) in the San Francisco Bay before. The changing moment came on Sunday, October 14, 2012 when I saw the lineup of Joanna Newsom, Best Coast, and M83 back-to-back-to-back, with The xx closing the festival.
The moment I arrived on the island, it was a much different change from the scenery of Golden Gate Park. I had been so accustomed to the smell of eucalyptus and pine trees, hiking hills, and the whole music-in-the-forest experience. This was by the ocean, where you could see the city line and Bay Bridge. Like Outside Lands, Treasure Island had all sorts of activities, such as a “Silent Disco,” arts and crafts, trampolines, and best of all, a ferris wheel. However, bigger than the change of scenery was the crowd size. Outside Lands brings in around 60,000 a day while Hardly Strictly’s weekend total can reach around 750,000. Those are far larger numbers compared to Treasure Island’s 12,500 per day. People say that Treasure Island is intimate—not an easy word for a mass festival—but it turned out to be true. TIMF achieved it.
The transportation out to the island via shuttle was super efficient and quick, as we all lined up and just got on. They were clean and very comfortable. Good job TIMF, zero stress. Festivals can be stressful enough already. This is pretty much opposite of Caltrain/BART/MUNI trips to fests in the past.
It was all blue sky coastal weather as Joanna Newsom came on at the Bridge Stage. She hardly ever does festivals, but it happened in San Francisco. Dressed in a picnic cloth dress, Newsom was the definition of quirky charm and sweetness. The audience was treated to a new song, amongst material from previous albums Ys and Have One on Me. She always reminded me of a sort of American Kate Bush, her persona very old and very young at the same time. I have never heard anyone play harp as Newsom does; she is in her own genre I’m sure.
Best Coast, the beloved surf rock group duo of Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno befittingly playing on home California soil, followed after, around 6:00 P.M. The familiar reverb and purr from Cosentino’s guitar and vocals with Bruno’s accompaniment combined ’60s surf/rockabilly/alt-country/Motown, with a good amount of ’90s thrown in. The set was enjoyable, but after a while the songs started to sound alike. “We’ll play ‘Boyfriend,’” she promised the crowd after playing the rest of the other songs, including “Our Deal,” “I Want To,” and “No One Like You.” True to her word, they ended the set with it, just as the sun was starting to come down and the chilly night sea breeze was getting more apparent.
An hour later M83, another example of how France produces such fantastic electronic groups, arrived on the foggy and strobed stage. By that time, we had been waiting at the rail for almost six hours. All hunger, thirst, and tiredness was instantly forgotten and concert adrenaline took over. When “Intro” crossed over to “Teen Angst,” the Bridge stage became a timeless dance party at what might as well have been the center of the universe for the moment.
The whole set was charged with blazing energy from their punkish guitars filtering through sparkling synths, dreamy vocals, and powerful beats. “Midnight City” got the biggest rouse as expected, especially with the sax solo, but the best highlight had to be during “Couleurs” at the end. Anthony Gonzalez popped a bottle of champagne and sprayed it at the crowd, then jumped off from stage (almost twisting his ankle!) to give us high fives after.
After a champagne shower and high fives from the lead man of M83, I was in high spirits waiting for The xx. If you’re not familiar with them, they kind of have a cult following. The way One Direction is loved is the way fans are in love with The xx. The crowd already started screaming as the giant plexiglass X for the stage center piece was brought out and wiped by the crew. Someone had brought pink yarn and starting at the center of the front row working down the middle, it looked like people were trying to create an X with it. That would’ve been much appreciated by the band.
There was hyperventilating going on. I’m not sure if it was the lack of food and minimal water—no peeing when you’ve saved your spot directly in front of Oliver Sim for years—or the uncontainable excitement, but I felt as if I would faint. You get the picture. We thought they would be British and sharp on time, but it was more like fashionably late. We all wondered what was taking them so long backstage. Nerves? Some sort of magical pre-show ritual? Whatever. We had waited three years for this, and this was the main reason why we were here, so we could take the extended wait.
It was clearly emotional as Romy, Oliver, and Jamie xx finally made their appearance, and the whole island was there watching them—in the fog, by the ocean, and under the stars. Most of us had not been able to see them in 2010 when they last toured here, and now we had the new album, Coexist, along with one of the most perfect records, their debut from 2009, xx. The band opened with the new single “Angels,” out as of this past July, and the crowd sang the words with Romy. They sang along not just to the singles, but other new songs as well, like “Tides,” which is barely a month old, because they are the type of band that does that to people.
They looked so striking in their sleek, all black, minimalist outfits—they could easily have been models for Hedi Slimane. The xx image and sound reflects their quiet confidence, and their quiet intensity. Coming from art school, they have great instincts for visuals. The lighting was rather unique. At times there would be ethereal, pearly light subtly filled with the primary colors of the album cover—imagine northern lights against smoky mist. At other times they would use a revolving blue and green light setup. I would’ve believed you if you told me this was heaven. At some point, the plexiglass X at the center was filled with fog and lit with the album covers. Beautiful and dreamy, like their music.
With 17 songs, they delivered what the audience wanted and more. Everything about them was all sparkling intensity and passion, and it extended to the audience. Everyone likes a small club or theatre setting, but there was something very magical about The xx’s music floating through the open night sky, out to a standing crowd of more than 10,000. Jamie xx’s genius percussion and smooth R&B beats have always perfectly filled the space left from Romy (guitar) and Oliver’s (bass) seamless, low, and breathless ‘she and him’ vocals. From “VCR” to “Basic Space,” or “Swept Away,” their vulnerable lyrics were carried away on deep, seductive gossamer tones. They are very good at creating something simple but evocative, simplicity serving to emphasize the latter. The three of them, but particularly Romy and Oliver (who are best friends), have a cool, but smoldering chemistry. That’s the only way to put it. Like stars on a cold night, The xx shine brightly from a distance, but burn infinitely hotter the closer one gets.